Monday, March 13, 2006

Ask the Expert: How much caffeine does tea have compared to coffee?

Q. What is the difference between wheat and gluten? If you are allergic to wheat should you also avoid gluten?

A. Wheat is a type of grain. Gluten is a protein component of some grains, including wheat, rye, oats, and barley. If you’re allergic to wheat you need to avoid wheat gluten, but not all gluten. However, if a product indicates it contains gluten, and you’re unsure of the source of the gluten, then you should NOT eat it until you find out all the facts.

Q. How much caffeine does tea have compared to coffee? Compared to chocolate? Is it really that bad for you?

A. Check out this chart based on average caffeine contents:

Food/Beverage - Caffeine (mg)
Coffee, brewed, drip method (8-ounce) - 184
Tea, brewed, major U.S. brands (8-ounce) - 64
Dark Chocolate, semi-sweet (1-ounce) - 20
Cocoa beverage (8-ounce) - 8

There are "bad" diets, but not "bad" foods or beverages. Foods or beverages with caffeine are not "bad", but too much caffeinated foods or beverages can contribute to a poor overall diet. Caffeine is not addictive, but it can have some temporary side-effects if you consume it in excess. These side effects may include anxiety, insomnia, fluid loss, and increased heart rate. If you’re a healthy adult, you should be able to consume caffeine without negative effects, as long as you do so in moderation—200 to 300 milligrams of caffeine a day. That means you can drink less than two cups of coffee a day.

Q. I am always shuttling my kids between their events. We often use the drive-thru window at a fast food restaurant because it’s easy and quick. What can I order that would be more healthful?

A. Focus first on the main course. Remember less is more – meaning the less add-ons such as sauces and cheese the more healthful your selections probably will be. Stick with charbroiled, roasted types of sandwiches. Forget the full-meal deals and order regular-sized portions – split an order of fries amongst the carload of kids and choose beverages that count nutritionally such as low-fat milk, orange juice or water. Some restaurants offer salads. Try those that contain primarily vegetables and use only half of the dressing in the packet provided. Round out the meal by bringing portable produce from home such as apples, bananas, baby carrots or grapes.

Ask the Expert: Veggies

Q. Does a vegetable juice like V8 count as a serving of vegetables?

A. Yes – but don’t forget to eat plenty of whole vegetables too. Six to eight ounces of vegetable juice is considered one serving. Some juices have a similar nutritional profile as whole vegetables – they are rich in vitamins and even contain fiber. However, vegetable juices can be high in sodium and may not have the phytochemicals (newly discovered disease-fighting substances in plant foods) naturally found in whole vegetables. The bottom line: Vegetable juice is a great beverage selection, but be sure to include at least two more servings of whole vegetables a day to go with it.

Ask the Expert: Cooking

Q. Should I use butter or margarine?

A. If you’re choosing butter or margarine in moderation, or less than a tablespoon per day, use whichever fat you prefer. For weight loss, margarine and butter both provide the same total fat and calories. However, if you tend to be heavy handed with the butter knife, then margarine, specifically one that’s trans fat-free, will likely be your best bet for heart health. (Trans fats act similar to blood cholesterol-raising saturated fats in the diet.) But don’t forget, flavor and enjoyment are important for lifelong healthy eating habits too. So, make sure you like the taste of what you use.

Q. Why is olive oil better to use than other vegetable oils (is it)?

A. Olive oil is a vegetable oil. As far as total fat and calories are concerned, all oils are created equal. Why you may hear or read so much about olive oil is because it’s high in heart-healthful monounsaturated fat and relatively low in the "bad fat" called saturated fat. Compared to other commonly used vegetable oils, olive oil contains the greatest percentage (74%) of monounsaturated fat. If you choose extra virgin olive oil, you’ll get plenty of flavor too! Many vegetable oils, such as sunflower or safflower, provide little flavor. A good rule of thumb—or tongue: make your fat calories count!

Q. Is it true that you should no longer mix rice and beans? I recently heard that starch and protein should not be eaten together.

A. No, it’s not true! Mix your rice and beans, please. They go together so well. You no longer NEED to mix rice and beans together to form "complete proteins" as was once a popular vegetarian belief over a decade ago. The fact is your body prefers the variety of foods and nutrients together. A balanced approach includes eating foods and beverages at meals that provide all our major energy nutrients—proteins, carbohydrates, and fats.

Ask the Expert: Hunger

Q. Why is it that when I eat a dinner of red meat, like steak, I wake up in the morning feeling really hungry? When I eat chicken or pasta or anything else I'm not as hungry in the morning.

A. It’s likely just a coincidence. Also, chances are when you eat red meat, chicken, or pasta, you’re probably eating something else along with these foods. Right? Many factors affect hunger level. A major factor is activity level. Timing of your meals is another. If you ate dinner at 5 pm and woke up at 8 am, chances are you should feel very hungry. Plus, your mind can trigger a higher perceived hunger level, or psychological hunger. For example, you might find you are (psychologically) hungry after seeing your favorite food on a television commercial, even when you’re not physiologically hungry. If you wake up truly physiologically hungry…good! It is normal to wake up in the morning and feel hungry. That means your metabolism is at work throughout the night, as it should be.

Q. Why do some people eat less and get full sooner than I do? Is it the size of their stomach or do they just have better willpower?

A. There are a number of reasons why your dining companions may be eating less. It could be that they are more in tune to feeling full; they may prefer to eat small frequent meals versus large, less frequent ones; or they may simply eat slower which can mean eating less. It takes 15 to 20 minutes for the brain to register a sense of fullness. Eating fast can cause you to overeat. Some people are planners too. They commit to eating a certain amount of food prior to sitting down at a meal and stick with the plan. Once they reach the designated amount,they push their plate away.

Ask the Expert: Natural/Organic

Q. Should I try soy milk instead of regular milk?

A. Sure! Try it. You might just like it! There are health advantages associated with both soy milk and regular dairy milk. You don’t need to give up dairy milk to include soy milk. Rather, I suggest you include soy milk in place of other calorie-dense beverages that provide little nutrition, such as regular soft drinks and some sweetened fruit drinks. Soy milk can be a substitute for dairy milk. But, check the label. If you’re using soy milk or another milk alternative in place of dairy milk, make sure it provides at least 30% Daily Value (DV) for calcium and 25% DV for vitamin D—for strong and healthy bones.

Q. Is organic always better? Why is it more expensive?

A. Organic foods are a great choice. Though they are not necessarily more nutritious, they are free of hormones, certain types of pesticides and antibiotics – substances that may have health consequences such as an increased risk for cancer. These foods can be more expensive because organic farming is more labor intensive in part because of the planning and balancing of crop rotation and because crop yields are often not as high as non-organic foods.

By the end of the year, the United States Department of Agriculture is expected to enforce a national organic food standard, meaning all foods labeled "organic" will have to meet certain criteria. This action will turn what is now an unregulated industry, into a uniform and consistent one ensuring that consumers really do receive organically grown foods. If you go organic, find foods labeled "certified organic."

Ask the Expert: Supplements

Q. I'd like to add a protein supplement to my diet, what is the difference between soy, whey and egg protein? Is this different from the protein you get from meat?

A. First of all, the best place to get protein is from “real” food first.
Secondly, the typical American diet generally provides far more protein than is typically needed for health. If you’re a vegetarian and meeting your energy needs while getting a variety of foods, chances are high you are still consuming enough protein. In case you don’t already know, protein is found in much more than just meat and milk. It’s found in grains, vegetables, nuts, and beans too. And, keep in mind that protein is an energy source like carbohydrates and fats. So, if you get too much protein, you can gain weight. (Non-athletes need under ½ gram of protein per pound of body weight. So, if you weigh 150 pounds, than 75 grams of protein per day should be a healthy daily maximum guideline.)

Now, for your specific question, if you actually do need help getting extra protein in your diet due to the inability to eat sufficient food sources of protein, than an animal-based protein source, such as egg, will be the most usable source—since eggs provide protein most similar to our own body protein. Besides the difference in usability by the body, protein supplements vary in amino acids (building block of proteins) provided. Animal sources will provide all your essential amino acids, just as meat provides all of them. However, there may be other health benefits associated with the proteins found in soy and other plant-based proteins.

Most importantly, when you take a potentially beneficial component within food and use it by itself in a supplement, you may not get all of its benefits. Often, a beneficial food component is such due to a variety of inter-working factors within the food. So, repeat after me: food first.

Q. How do I decide whether to take a multi-vitamin?

A. In general, if you’re not meeting all the minimum recommendations of the Food Guide Pyramid, you might need to take a vitamin-mineral supplement that provides approximately 100% Daily Value (DV) of the vitamins and minerals. But remember, supplements should be considered just that, supplements, not replacements for whole food. Your best health bet is to set goals to meet the daily Pyramid recommendations through your diet. Then, reserve your supplement for just those occasional days you don’t quite meet your goals. It’s ok—those days will occur from time to time. If you’re not sure how your diet stacks up with the Pyramid, or have specific nutrition-related health issues, seek the advice of a registered dietitian.

Ask the Expert: Diet

Q. Everyone says I shouldn’t skip breakfast, but I don’t understand why.

A. Breakfast replenishes your body and brain with energy. Fasting over night significantly reduces energy stores. A morning meal perks you up which can, according to some studies, increase your productivity, your mental sharpness and your ability to handle stress. Breakfast eaters tend to have more strength and endurance, a greater capacity to concentrate and better ability to solve problems. Research has also shown that breakfast eaters often have healthier diets – they get more vitamins and minerals in and they tend to eat less fat.

Q. I think I need to eat better. I cannot seem to eat foods from every food group at every meal. Should I be?

A. You don’t have to eat one food from each of the foods groups at every meal. What’s more important is what you choose over the entire day. Your goal is to eat the recommended servings of foods from all the food groups each day. Use the Food Guide Pyramid as your blueprint. It gives you a snapshot of how to balance your diet. Grains such as cereals, bread,pasta and rice are the foundation – next are fruits and vegetables followed by dairy foods, meats and legumes.

Balance is the key. If one day or one meal favors meat then have your future meals feature grains, fruits and vegetables.

Q. Why is it that in summertime I feel like I can get by with eating less or eating lighter foods?

A. It’s been documented that appetite and food intake can change along with the seasons. Both tend to go up during the colder months and go down during the summer months. Summer’s heat can zap energy and appetite making heavier foods such as stews, casseroles and creamy desserts less appealing. The influx of light, colorful, naturally low in fat seasonal fruits and vegetables are also a welcome change of pace to winter’s filling fare. Their juicy, crisp sweet taste is a refreshing, cooling treat.

Summertime activities and the season’s more carefree schedule can make mealtimes less structured and less of a focus in one’s day. Chances are you are probably drinking more fluids as well. Fluids can “water down” your appetite making you less apt to overeat.

Q. Are there certain foods that will help my skin look better, or give my hair a healthier glow?

A. One of the most important tools for healthy skin and hair is an overall healthful diet. Though certain vitamins such as B, C and E are associated with cell growth and repair (which parlays into healthier skin and hair) they need to be packaged with a well-balanced diet in order to be effective.

Other tips:

  • Choose at least five servings of fruits and vegetables a day. They contain antioxidants which may protect against premature aging.
  • Eat foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids. They may help produce hormone-like substances in your body that rejuvenate the skin. (Albacore tuna, salmon, lake trout, soybeans and canola or flaxseed oil are good sources.)
  • Drink at least six to eight glasses of water or other non-alcoholic, decaffeinated beverages a day (ideally ones that have nutritional merit). Water is necessary for every function in your body including keeping every cell in your body healthy. Too little liquid may make your skin less resilient.

Ask the Expert: Nutrients

Q. What are carbohydrates and why should I care?

A. Carbohydrates are nutrients – just like vitamins and minerals. They are compounds made up of sugar and are the main (and preferred source) of energy for your body including your brain and your nervous system. Good sources of carbohydrate are plant foods, i.e. fruits, some vegetables such as potatoes and corn and grain-based foods like cereal, pasta, bread and rice.

There are two types of carbohydrates – simple and complex. Simple carbohydrates are sugars. Complex carbohydrates are starches and fiber. A healthful diet is made up of primarily complex carbohydrates.

Most nutrition experts recommend that about half the calories you eat come from carbohydrates. Eating too little carbohydrate shortchanges your body on several important vitamins, disease-fighting phytochemicals and fiber.

Q. I am lactose intolerant and concerned that I am not getting enough calcium in my diet. Will rice or soy milk give me as much as cow’s milk?

A. It depends. Without fortification, neither rice nor soy milk is a good source of calcium. Soy milk provides about 10 milligrams of calcium in a serving -- rice beverages contain about 15 milligrams. In comparison, one cup of cow’s milk offers 300 milligrams. The good news is there are low lactose varieties of cow’s milk, which are rich in calcium and there are fortified soy and rice milk products that have a comparable calcium content to cow’s milk. Look at the nutrition label on these beverages to determine what they have to offer. There are also many different kinds of calcium-fortified products on shelves such as juices, rice and breakfast cereals. Together, they can help you meet your calcium needs of 1,000 to 1,200 milligrams a day.

Q. How much value is there in the spoonfuls of add-ins you can get when you order a smoothie, e.g. ginseng, fiber, wheat germ, and spirulina?

A. There is no way of telling exactly what you get when you order herbal ingredients for your smoothie. The industry is very loosely monitored. In fact, analyses of herbal products have shown that some mixtures actually contain little to no herbal ingredients or the ingredients they do contain lack active components.

Fiber and wheat germ are considered healthful ingredients. But, along with herbal add-ins the amount used in drinks is often quite small, therefore the nutritional contribution or healthful impact of these items can be minimal.

To get a better sense of what these added ingredients have to offer nutritionally, ask your server for a nutritional analysis of them. If they don’t have it, skip the extras.